The Rev. Roderick Green says it is not unusual for people visiting Columbus to knock on the door at First African Baptist Church.
"They know it is a special place and want to see inside," he said of the oldest black church in the city.
The church at 901 Fifth Ave. is currently celebrating 175 years. The current home for First African was built in 1915. The church was added to the National Historic Register in 1980 and a marker sits in front. A new bapistry was added in 1974.
"It is a humbling experience to be the pastor at a place with such a rich legacy," said Green, who is in his fourth year of leading the congregation.
Green said the church has stayed strong, though there have been splits in the congregation leading to the formation of other black churches, including Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church and Metropolitan Baptist Church, all of which have their own rich histories.
The beginning of the church actually dates back to a meeting of 12 men that was held in a small room on Broad Street in 1829 where Ephesus Baptist Church -- later to be First Baptist Church -- was organized.
According to First African's website, whites and blacks worshipped under the same roof until First Baptist built another church and gave the old building to the black people for worship. That was 1840.
First African was once located at 11th Street and Sixth Avenue, where Goldens' Foundry is today.
It wasn't until 1862 that the church had a black pastor, the Rev. Harry Watson.
A list of the church's parishioners through the years includes Judge Albert Thompson and Eddie T. Lindsey Jr.
Thompson was the first black appointed as a Superior Court judge in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, and Lindsey was the first black assistant superintendent in the Muscogee County School District.
"We have had parishioners who were at the forefront of integrating local schools," said Eleanor L. White, a member for more than 60 years. "We have had many black city leaders attend here."
White's great grandfather was not a member of First African, but he was in charge of the construction of the current building. To her, that makes attending First African particularly special.
"Significant families in this community continue to be a part of this church," Green said.
White said the church has always been a leader in community outreach and mentioned the Mary Lee Bussey Crisis Closet, which provides food and clothing to the area's needy.
"This is a benevolent congregation," she said.
Green said the church has 162 members. Like many churches, the size of the congregation is not what it once was. White has a photo taken in the 1950s showing more than 60 children in a Sunday School class.
"There are so many churches now," Green said.
He called First African a traditional church in contemporary times. He said the church wants to serve the present and recapture some of the past glory. He said First African has to meet present-day dynamics, and he feels the church is headed in the right direction.
"We are a Christ worshipping church and all are welcome here," Green said
"We are winning souls," White said.
The church has plenty of activities planned for the week.
On Aug. 7, there is an anniversary banquet at the Green Island Country Club.
On Aug. 8, there is an afternoon homecoming fish fry at the Psalmond Road Recreation Center.
On Aug. 9, the 11 a.m. service will have the Rev. Robert M. Dickerson, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Phenix City, as a guest speaker.
The theme for this anniversary celebration is "Marching Forward to Build a New Foundation, Trusting in God."
"It is going to be a great celebration," Green said.
Anyone seeking more information should call 706-323-3367.